Saratoga County

They’re not retired men, they’re ROMEOs

It may be fun to stay at the YMCA, but it’s an even bigger blast to eat lunch with the ROMEOs.

A loose social lunch group calling themselves ROMEO (Retied Old Men Eating Out) meet at the Big Apple Restaurant on Route 9 in Saratoga on Wednesday afternoon. Here we see Dick Haner smiling while telling John Fish a story during the lunch.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
A loose social lunch group calling themselves ROMEO (Retied Old Men Eating Out) meet at the Big Apple Restaurant on Route 9 in Saratoga on Wednesday afternoon. Here we see Dick Haner smiling while telling John Fish a story during the lunch.

It may be fun to stay at the YMCA, but it’s an even bigger blast to eat lunch with the ROMEOs.

A group of local men who worked out at the Wilton branch of the YMCA decided five years ago to get together for lunch outside of their workout. Eventually, they started meeting once a month at a different restaurant each time and named themselves “Retired Old Men Eating Out” after a men’s network similar to the women’s Red Hat Society.

“The women have Red Hats. We have ROMEOs,” said Ed Sackman of Northumberland.

According to www.romeoclub.org, there are hundreds of ROMEO clubs sprinkled across the country, including one in the Clifton Park/Halfmoon area. The Saratoga Springs one is not listed on the site, which was started by a Payson, Ariz., ROMEO club. The site explains that the clubs don’t require membership or have rules but are simply informal socializing groups.

Other groups use the acronym ROMEO to mean “Rich Old Men Eating Out,” “Retired Older Men Enjoying Outings” and “Respectable Older Men Eating Out,” according to the Web site.

Ed Frail started the lunch tradition locally when he got his first Social Security check five years ago. “He said, ‘I’m going to take a bunch of the guys out to lunch,’ ” recalled Earl Reed, the group’s coordinator.

Each time another man got his first Social Security check, he’d treat the others to lunch, Reed said.

“Anybody can come, even women — even though they never come,” he said.

The group draws as few as six people in the winter months or as many as 20 when everyone’s in town. Now, every man pays for his own meal.

In their working lives, they were a diverse group.

Reed, 69, was a car salesman and co-founded The Mexican Connection, the city’s first Mexican restaurant. Steve Karamanos, 78, owned The Turf restaurant in Scotia.

Sackman, 79, became a dairy farmer, though he was born and raised in New York City.

Dick Haner, 79, was superintendent of schools in Truxton in Cortland County before joining the state Education Department and moving to Clifton Park. He now lives in Saratoga Springs.

And Tom Klotz, 70, was in charge of uniform security at the Navy base.

Now, they’re just a big group of friends. “It’s a great time, even though we see one another at the gym,” Klotz said of the monthly outings.

They rib each other and discuss local news, but stay away from hot-button topics like politics and religion, Reed explained.

“We talk girls, girls and more girls,” he joked.

But ribbing Lou Schneider about politics is fair game. Schneider is the city’s Democratic Committee chairman.

“Lou’s happy as hell today,” Reed called across the table at the group’s Wednesday meeting at The Big Apple in Saratoga Springs. “Hillary won,” he said, referring to Sen. Hillary Clinton’s showing in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday.

Some of the men, like Reed, are Saratoga Springs natives, but most moved in from out of the area at some point. Bob Gatland, a retired high school teacher, moved to Wilton just three years ago from Long Island.

“The biking’s great. Take your pick — you can go flat, [or] you can go up mountains,” he said.

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